Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Candy Arrington and Kim Atchley's new book, When Your Aging Parent Needs Care: Practical Help for this Season of Life (Harvest House, 2009).
The demands of caring for your aging parents can seem overwhelming. But when you look beyond your challenges as a caregiver to the God who cares for you, you can experience joy even in the middle of a tough situation. Here's how:
Do your best and leave the rest. Acknowledge the fact that you have limited time and energy. Ask God to give you the strength you need to do your best each day caring for your parents, and rely on His power working through you instead of just on your own efforts. Leave what you can't do in God's hands and trust Him to help in every situation.
Honor your parents. Pray for God's help honoring your parents even when their behavior or words toward you are frustrating. Remember that they're dealing with the many stresses that come with aging. Choose to forgive your parents for ways they've hurt or offended you in the past, since God has forgiven your own sins. Ask God to help you heal from unresolved wounds from your past relationship with them. Don't talk down to your parents or lash out at them in anger. Aim to protect their dignity.
Accept help. Recognize when you need breaks from your caregiving responsibilities, and be willing to delegate tasks to others who are competent and trustworthy. Don't put off enjoying life while you're caring for your parents. Nurture your own emotional stability by taking breaks when you need them.
Set and enforce boundaries. Protect yourself from unnecessary pressure by discussing boundaries with your parents, about issues like how much time you can spend with them and how much emotional angst they can spill on you. Encourage your parents to pray about all of their needs, trusting God to ultimately meet them, through others as well as through you.
Count your blessings. Take stock regularly of how God has answered prayers and otherwise blessed your family, and thank Him for His ongoing work in your life. Cultivating gratitude will help you maintain a positive attitude.
Check in from long distance. If you live far away from your aging parents, recruit some of their nearby friends, neighbors, and family members to help with their needs on a rotating basis. Set up a monthly schedule and make sure that all caregivers know how to contact you.
Set up a primary caregiver's notebook. Organize important information related to your parents' care - such as insurance, medications, and medical contacts - in one central place so you can access it easily.
Discuss difficult topics effectively. Don't hesitate to bring up difficult topics with your parents when the need arises. You may need to discuss subjects like money, insurance coverage, personal hygiene issues, lifestyle choices, end-of-life care decisions, wills or funeral expenses. Be prepared beforehand by gathering pertinent information so you'll have answers for their questions. Listen to your parents well, aiming to understand both their words and the emotions underneath what they say.
Be informed. Ask your parents to tell you where they keep important papers, such as: bank account statements; Social Security numbers; insurance policies; Veterans Affairs benefits statements; wills; marriage, birth, and death certificates; and information about their financial assets and liabilities. Get to know how your parents manage their money, and how you can best take over if they become incapacitated. Learn the office procedures of every medical office your parents deal with regularly. Encourage your parents to complete vital forms, like advance directives, powers of attorney, and medical records.
Help your parents get around. If your parents are having difficulty walking, investigate mobility aids such as canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and scooters. If your parents are having challenges staying safe while driving, sign them up for a driver safety course for seniors to update their skills, treat any eyesight problems, or convince them to give up their car keys permanently for their safety and that of others on the road. If they have to stop driving, arrange alternative transportation for them.
Try to keep them active and engaged. Help your parents stay spiritually connected by encouraging them to attend church and Bible studies regularly, if possible, and providing transportation, if necessary. Give them plenty of opportunities for social interaction, such as volunteer work they enjoy and activities at your local senior center. Combat loneliness by giving your parents plenty of physical affection (like hugs, kisses, and hand-holding) to express your love for them. Be willing to sit with them sometimes to hear their nostalgic stories of the past. Record their stories for posterity.
Be flexible. You must fulfill many different roles as a caregiver - a nurse, case manager, child who loves, chauffeur, friend who listens, psychologist, etc. - so pray for the wisdom to know which role to step into when, to best care for your parents in every situation.
Choose the best living situation for them. If your parents are going to stay in their home or move into your home or someone else's, modify the home so they live there safely, and look into hiring home health care workers. Consider facilities such as independent living retirement communities, assisted living, and nursing homes - depending on the level of care they need.
Encourage them. Assure your parents that you still love and value them, despite their health impairments. If you notice signs of depression in their lives, get them counseling and medication as needed.
Deal with their cognitive decline well. Don't panic when your parents start to seem confused and disoriented. Get them medical tests to determine how best to treat their condition. Ask God to give you the strength you need to sustain you emotionally as you deal with their struggles. Remember that the parents you knew are still there, even if they can't express themselves in the old ways. Cherish the moments of mental clarity your parents still demonstrate. Help your parents plan and keep track of their schedules consistently.
Deal with your grief well when your parents pass away. After your time as a caregiver to your parents ends, ask God to give you a sense of peace, knowing that you did all you could to take care of them well. Join a support group or get counseling, if necessary, to help you through the grieving process.
November 13, 2009
Adapted from When Your Aging Parent Needs Care: Practical Help for this Season of Life , copyright 2009 by Candy Arrington and Kim Atchley. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Or., www.harvesthousepublishers.com.
Candy Arrington's writing provides biblical insights and practical advice, often on tough topics. Her publishing credits include hundreds of articles in periodicals such as Focus on the Family, Today's Christian Woman, Marriage Partnership, Encounter, Pray, and The Lookout, and her stories have appeared in the Chicken Soup and Cup of Comfort series. Additionally, she is coauthor of Aftershock: Help, Hope, and Healing in the Wake of Suicide. Candy and her husband, Jim, are parents of two young adults and serve as primary caregivers for Candy's mother.
Kim Atchley is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in numerous publications including Hometown News and Prime Years, for which she did a series on Hospice and on the "sandwich generation." For four years she was a columnist and feature writer for the Spartanburg Herald Journal. She and husband, Ryan, have three children. Kim was primary caregiver for both her parents during their battles with cancer.